The whole point of jerky is that it lasts forever, right? Well, not forever. Actually, how long does jerky last?
I imagine the inner monologue that led you here was something like that. Maybe you bought a whole bunch of jerky months ago, assuming it would last, but now you’re not sure. Or maybe you found some unopened in the back of the pantry and you don’t know if it’s still good. Either way, this article will answer your questions!
The first thing to note is that, yes, jerky lasts a long time. It’s cured meat, and it originates from traditional curing methods used to store meat over winter or to take out on long trips. I mean, it’s still a great road trip snack isn’t it?
Of course jerky is still meat. It lasts a decent amount of time, but you definitely do not want to eat it if it has gone even slightly bad. So you’re asking yourself, how do I tell if jerky is bad? Can I freeze jerky?
Firstly, let’s look at the most common types of jerky you’re likely to encounter.
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Types of Jerky
As jerky is really easy to make, plenty of people still make it at home. Homemade jerky is just meat (most meats work) heated gently with a constant flow of air around it. Traditionally, this would be outside over a fire and these days it can be outside over a grill or in the oven on a very low heat. Homemade jerky will last a long time, but always be cautious when working with meat and of course jerky made at home doesn’t have the modern preservatives that store bought jerk has. Jerky bought at the store will generally last longer than jerky made at home, and it will also put up with less than perfect storage. Homemade jerky will not.
Jerky can be made of a huge variety of meat. Usually it’s beef if stor bought, but South African biltong, which is often made of bush meat, is also pretty common. Turkey jerky is seen as a little healthier than red meat based jerkies. Finally, in areas where there’s a lot of hunting you might find game jerkies, and if you look hard enough fish jerkies too!
The final thing to think about with jerky is whether it’s salted or unsalted. Whether made at home or bought, jerky can be made with or without salt. Salted jerky is immersed in a salt bath before being dried. The salt acts as a preservative, and therefore salted jerky lasts longer than unsalted.
Does Jerky go Bad?
Although the whole point of jerky initially was its long shelf life, it does eventually go off. Have you ever noticed those funny little packets labelled DO NOT CONSUME in jerky packets? That’s silica gel, which is in there to suck up ambient moisture and keep everything dry. That’s the most important part of keeping jerky good — keeping it dry!
Over time, jerky may change in color and texture without actually going bad. You’ll have to assess whether or not your jerky seems okay to eat. As it’s meat, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when you’re deciding if your jerky is still good.
As with most other foods, the shelf life of your jerky will vary wildly depending on how carefully you store it.
How to Store Jerky
When you buy jerky at the store you’ll notice that the packet the jerky comes in (along with that silica gel) is usually thick plastic and resealable. That’s because keeping jerky in an airtight container is incredibly important. Moisture, heat and light will all cause jerky to break down quickly.
Because jerky is dried it sucks up moisture in the air around it. Being dry is what keeps jerky fresh for a long time — bacteria and mould don’t spread very easily through dry food. When jerky has sucked in ambient moisture, though, bacteria can have a field day.
So, storing unopened store bought jerky is really easy. The pack will have had almost all the oxygen inside removed so the jerky will stay dry (and fresh) for ages. Just stick it somewhere cool and dark and abide by the best-by date on the back.
When you’ve opened the bag of jerky, you should keep it sealed in a jar or tub. You can store this in the pantry, or, if recommended on the jerky packaging, in the fridge. It should last a couple of weeks.
With homemade jerky things are a little more complicated, obviously you won’t have any packet instructions to follow. If you vacuum sealed your own jerky or used an oxygen absorber then you can store it in the pantry. If not, or if you want to be extra careful, then keep it in a sealed container in the fridge.
Can You Freeze Jerky?
You can absolutely freeze jerky, but it does almost always change the texture and sometimes the taste of the meat. Jerky aficionados and real foodies wouldn’t advise it, but it is a great way to extend the life of homemade jerky or jerky that doesn’t contain many preservatives. Store bought jerky with a long shelf life (look at the best-by date and the ingredients list if you’re unsure) should be kept unopened in the pantry if possible.
If you’ve decided to freeze your jerky, which is a good idea if you have a lot of homemade jerky in particular, then you’ll need to protect it from freezerburn to keep it as close to its original texture and flavor as possible. Place the jerky in a heavyduty freezer bag, and push out as much air as you can before sealing it and then pack it in the freezer. Remember to label the bags with the date as well as what sort of jerky they are!
How Long Does Jerky Last?
Jerky can last as long as 12 months, or as little as a week depending on where you get it and how you store it. The below is my guide to how long jerky will still be good. It may be edible for longer, but again, with meat it’s best not to take chances.
Store-bought, unopened jerky lasts up to 12 month. Consult the packaging for specifics.
Once opened, store-bought jerky kept in a sealed container will last up to 2 weeks in the pantry or 1 month in the fridge
Homemade vacuum sealed jerky should be good for 1-2 months in the pantry or 4 months in the fridge.
Homemade jerky that has been opened or wasnt vaccum sealed will be fine for 1-2 weeks in the pantry or 1 month in the fridge. Again, keep it stored in an airtight container.
How to tell if Jerky is Bad
Jerky can go bad in a few ways. If it hasn’t been exposed to moisture, it may just go hard and change color quite intensely. At this point, it could still be okay to eat but won’t taste great and may be a challenge to chew!
In some cases, the jerky might start to smell pretty bad. If this happens, don’t even taste it just chuck it. Likewise, get rid of jerky that tastes at all rancid.
Finally, there is a chance that mould can grow on jerky. It probably won’t be a huge outbreak of mould, because jerky is cured and therefore not particularly hospitable to bacteria or mould. If there are any off-colored, furry patches on any piece in a pack of jerky then throw it all away.